Incubator Blogs: The Strength in Open Events and Open Innovations — Part III
Open events help create innovation. In the last part of our blog series on the matter, we address our role in the innovation ecosystem, and how we should be mindful of its limitations when organising and facilitating open events.

Hi, and welcome to the last part in our blog series on open events and open innovations. My name is Santeri Tuovila, and I’m the Project Lead for Circulator 1.0 (to which you can apply right now!) If you’ve read Part I and Part II, you’ll know by now that one of my passions is organising open events and be familiar with my firmly held beliefs that they’re of great benefit in creating and maintaining healthy innovation ecosystems.

Following the somewhat academic discussion about innovation and the factors that help drive it (hint: open events and multidisciplinarity are key!) in Part I and the coverage of our open events and how they’ve helped develop an innovation ecosystem around our university in Part II, we’ll now round off the series with some analysis on our role as the University in this ecosystem, and what it needs to be self-sustaining.

A Growing Open Community

As the innovation and start-up community grows together, its members can discuss matters and share information using a shared professional language and understand the implicit rules of how great a favour they can ask of other community members. Once this community grows sufficiently, it will become self-sustaining, with former members recommending that newcomers join events, activities, or contact other members directly. By acting openly their actions are noted by new members and the shared “rules” are adopted even faster (Wenger, MacDermott & Snyder 2002).

Currently, we as the University are leading the creation of events and facilitating these encounters. However, let us remember, our primary role is to educate and maximise the potential for research-based innovations to arise. In leading start-up communities, it’s the start-up founders themselves who are leading the creation of events and activities, which in turn has a direct impact on their businesses in two ways.

First, the founders know exactly what their pain points at that moment are and can organise activities that will help them address them. Second, when founders themselves are the activity leaders contacting speakers, participants, and partners, they benefit from an extra dose of new relationships and connections, which in turn can lead to customers, investors, new employees, etc.

Our Role, and Its Limitations

As a university, we should remember that much like any other non-founder, public-sector innovation ecosystem player, our role in the ecosystem should not and cannot ever be as important as the role of the founder members. Our role as educators and early-stage facilitators has its value, of course, but in my mind we should always be reminding the founders to be active players in the ecosystem, taking the lead in community activities in whatever matters they are interested in. The easy way of doing this is for us to ask the founders what their needs are, then help them set up a gathering to discuss matters. We can help arrange events, but we should not be picking their topics – that is the founders’ responsibility. This principle is highlighted by global case studies conducted by perhaps the most achieved startup community builder Brad Feld and his co-author Ian Hathaway (2020).

In a positively saturated innovation ecosystem, there are more events during a single day than one person can attend, meaning that they need to choose which ones to attend based on their interest, helping make sure that the connections made, and information shared are the most interesting for the participants. In the Helsinki region, Startup Sauna, along with Aaltoes, can organise some three open events a week. Maria01 had seven open events listed on their website for June 2022. Let us see how much we as the University of Helsinki can help grow that number. Although, as said, the most important thing for us is to make it easy for start-up founders grow the innovation community by creating events that fit their own interest.

As a university we could help the founders to host the events since as understood, the founders may be too busy to create one while running their organisations, but still have enormous insight on what type of open event is valuable for them (Van Weeler et al. 2018).

Final words on community

A common denominator for all the events we’ve described in this blog series is that they were all single events, organised for a specific community. The participants know when and in which (professional) situation they’ll meet each other again. This affects the goodwill that they have towards other participants. Allow me to explain. Say you start working with a new colleague. You’ll inevitably pay more attention to that person than if they were a stranger at an event because you know that this relationship will have some permanence to it.

In our case events, the participants all belonged to a specific community: “Incubator Programme Participants and People Interested in Impact/Sustainability,” “Food Innovators,” and “Viikki Innovation Ecosystem Members”. Each community has its own characteristics – the language they speak, the opportunities and knowledge that relevant to them, and the level of goodwill members had towards each other. With this in mind, anyone planning an open innovation event needs to understand what the community’s expectations are – but that, dear friends, is a matter for a different series of blog posts.

Thank you very much for reading this series. I hope it has provided you with new information and viewpoints. If you have any questions about open events, communities, or innovations, do please reach out to me at santeri.tuovila@helsinki.fi!

Citations used in this blog post

Feld, B.; Hathaway, I. (2020) Startup community way: Envolving entrepreneurial ecosystem. John Wiley & Sons.

Van Weeler, M. A. et al. (2018) Start-up Communities as Communities of Practice: Shining a Light on Geographical Scale and Membership. Tijdschrift voor economische en sociale geografie. [Online] 109 (2), 173–188.

Wenger, E., McDermott, R. & Snyder, W. (2002) Cultivating Communities of Practice. Harvard Business School Press Boston